I must admit, it is hard for me to understand how it makes sense to ask the question “Capitalism is in crisis across the globe – but what on earth is the alternative?” and come up with “Marxism” as the answer. Indeed, to answer that seems to indicate one has really misunderstood the question. It’s like answering “What is two plus two?” with “We need more fish.”
Marxists only happen to even be right that capitalism _is_ in crisis at this particular moment. There have been numerous periods during which Marxists have predicted gloom and doom for world capitalism only to find that it is humming along improving everyone’s quality of life. Perhaps Marxists can claim none of that matters because it’s obvious to most we’re in one doozy of a crisis now…but my point is that Marxist social scientists don’t have a great track record for predicting things. Their answers to basic factual questions (the “what is two plus two” kind of questions) have not been tremendously encouraging. In most industrialised countries, from the end of World War II to the 1970s, instead of increasing misery for an immiserated proletariat, we saw there was room in a growing middle class for larger numbers of people. Today’s Marxists claim all that was built on sand, and maybe they’re right. For me it’s more telling that they never saw this development coming – though people like Eduard Bernstein pointed out it was happening as far back as 1899. Today, when outraged Marxian lefties shout about the effect current economic policies are having on “the middle class”, it provides a wryly drole commentary on how clueless Marxists have been about the prospects for joining middle class in the past.
As for the unrelated prescription of Marxism (the “we need more fish” sort of answer), it’s unclear to me why the mere fact of capitalist crisis today means the Marxist answer is the only possible one. We’ve had numerous practical examples that Keynesian solutions have prevented the crisis from becoming far worse, and numerous practical examples that the “austerity alternative” has gutted economies. We have not had _any_ examples that implementing Marxist policies, anywhere in the world, have led to anything but death, domination and inefficiency on a massive scale. Yet Marxists continue to present themselves as a real alternative to weak-kneed liberals and their allegedly timid Keynesian policies. One wonders what would happen if today’s defenders of neo-Marxian dogma got behind Keynesian approaches and did the real radical thing – arguing that the people, like the banks, are also “too big to fail” and need to get a little bit of that stimulus money.
This article on the rise of Marxism in today’s world seems to make it clear that both the factual analysis and the proposed remedies associated with Marxism remain as blithely unrelated to what is and what works today as has been the case in the past. To paraphrase another Marx, Groucho, today’s Marxism seems to be the art of “looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies”.
In a way, though, one misunderstands Marxism if one thinks that it really is about solving problems. It’s about coping with those problems in a community of like-minded individuals. Marxists like to see themselves as people who don’t just tinker around the edges but have a plan for an entirely new kind of world, where people do things completely differently than grubby compromising apologists for the current order (like me, presumably) would do them. It doesn’t faze them that these completely new and vibrantly different societies never happen, and that “really existing” Marxist societies are always these grey, militarised, intrusive monstrosities. Some of those grey, militarised societies exist even today, and these societies are, quite plainly, no road map to a technicolour future. Nevertheless, today’s Marxists, like past ones, are utterly committed to their visions, and, what is more important to them, they’re willing to die, and have others die, to make them “happen”.
“Surely there is no straight line from The Communist Manifesto to the gulags,” argues Stuart Jeffries in this article, as if it is shocking to imagine people would think there was such a straight line on the mere basis of every Marxist society yet established having its version of the gulag. “It is extremely unlikely that such a ‘post-capitalist society’ would respond to the traditional models of socialism and still less to the ‘really existing’ socialisms of the Soviet era,” Jefferies quotes British historian Eric Hobsbawm as saying, as if today’s Marxists would obviously be beyond such models. But Hobsbawm also said this, in 2002: “The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me . . . I have abandoned, nay, rejected it, but it has not been obliterated. To this day, I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness.” You know, the USSR…the country that invented the gulags. To this day, he treats _that_ tradition with indulgence and tenderness.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that noticing that X is bad does not mean that your proposed Y to replace it is good. It never has meant that and it never will. But point this out to Marxists, and their answer is today what it has been ever since the days of Marx himself – that you’re denying how bad X is.
That answer is irrelevant…as irrelevant as any answer to a math question advocating getting more fish would be.